EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006

(W012)

Changing economies and changing identities in post-socialist Eastern Europe

Location Wills 1.5
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30

Convenors

Ingo Schröder (University of Marburg) email
Asta Vonderau (Martin-Luther University Halle) email
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Short Abstract

Analysis of the impact of economic change on the construction of new identities in the new EU member states of East-Central Europe

Long Abstract

Global processes of economic change are challenging established identities and creating new ones across the globe. Thus, the introduction of a capitalist economy, and socio-economic processes connected to EU accession in particular, have provided fertile ground for the making of numerous kinds of new local and regional identities in the formerly socialist states of East-Central Europe. The workshop will bring together ethnographies focusing on this region and theoretical approaches that explore such processes of identity construction that have taken place both in response to the implementation of external models and as part of strategies harnessing local economic interests to collective identifications. Possible topics could include: the local impact of new transnational economic ties; the reassertion of old local or regional identities with new meanings; identities of new economic elites; increasing class division based on new structures of economic advantages and disadvantages; the question of whether new 'Western' or 'European' identities have been created; the mobilisation of identities as part of an economic strategy; and the immediate impact of the EU's strategies of economic support on the mobilisation of new identities.

Discussant: Vytis Ciubrinskas

Papers

Ethnographies of capitalism, class, and identity: perspectives on Eastern Europe

Author: Ingo Schröder (University of Marburg)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper will present an introductory survey of anthropological approaches to the analysis of capitalism and its impact on the creation and reproduction of identity. Ethnographic studies from different parts of the world have shown that capitalism operates not only as an economic but also as a 'cultural system' that generates symbolic resources for the anchoring and negotiation of identity in plural society. Such symbolic discourses by no means eliminate, but add another important analytical dimension to, the crucial relevance of class as the dominating fault line of contemporary societies.

The reemergence of class in the (allegedly) formerly classless societies of Eastern Europe poses an important challenge to the anthropological investigation of postsocialist identities. The paper will present a preliminary sketch of an anthropological approach to the study of class identities in these countries.

Loss, continuity and change in the postsocialist Lithuanian countryside

Author: Ida Harboe Knudsen (Arkæologi og Lingvistik)  email
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Long Abstract

This proposal will focus on the transformative process of the Lithuanian agricultural sector in the years leading up to and since EU membership. The aim is to investigate the impact of institutional and legal changes initiated by EU agricultural programmes for new member states on rural daily life, and how it affects peoples´ understanding of what is "foreign" and what is "local."

I see Loss, Continuity and Change as keywords for the transformation of society and practice in the rural areas. Loss in terms of the loss of past certainty and economic stability provided by the collective farm, Continuity in terms of strategies developed to cope with this loss and Change occurs when the very same strategies and modes of thinking transform in interaction with the new circumstances.

This proposal will contribute to the understanding of this recent historical development through an analysis of the influence of the EU in a post-socialist context. I will investigate how these influences are understood, reshaped and integrated into already existing modes of local regulation and practice.

Transforming identities: the case of a rural Bulgarian business at the threshold of EU entry

Author: Zlatina Bogdanova (Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum (IEFSEM) )  email
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Long Abstract

Bulgaria's integration and anticipated membership in the EU in 2007 has resulted in the adoption of new economic policies, which have wide-ranging implications across the country. The purpose of this paper is to explore how identity transformation is taking place in the context of a village economy in the region of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The paper will demonstrate how the shift in the political and economic context shapes the identities of rural inhabitants. State-supported agriculture was terminated with the disestablishment of the collective farms in the beginning of 1990s. The loss of Soviet markets for agricultural produce led to many structural changes in the Bulgarian countryside that has had an impact on rural lifestyles and identities. In the last decade new forms of private farming have replaced collective farming. The integration of the rural economy into the framework of the EU market has prioritized, at least in this region of Bulgaria, the development of village tourism. In line with the new economic opportunities, some villagers have responded to the demands for providing tourist services by opening family run businesses and thus establishing themselves as entrepreneurs. The specific case discussed in the paper is of a family which has opened a restaurant and hotel. This business becomes the source of new identification and modes of living for the family (which was previously involved only in agricultural activities). This family's story is not an exceptional case; a small number of village inhabitants are acquiring skills as entrepreneurs and emerging as new local elite. At the same time new social differentiations with respect to property and wealth are resulting in a growing number of socially disadvantaged villagers. In this way, the issue of "identities in transition" is related to the processes of social and economic, inclusion and exclusion in the Bulgarian countryside.

Polish farmers in the EU: a case study from eastern Poland

Author: Anastazja Pilichowska (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper focuses on the changing identity of farmers from rural Eastern Poland as a result of EU accession. The area is the furthest eastern border of the enlarged European Union, and a region which is recognised by EU statistics to have one of the lowest GDP's in the whole EU with high unemployment, low educational rate. What means that EU support might have a significant meaning for the future of the region? I will look at how the local rural population functions in the context of EU membership and a changing economic environment.

EU funding is bringing about fundamental changes and innovations to rural farmers' way of life. Imposed regulations, access to resources and information are all factors that shape the ways in which farmers are carrying out their activities.

Many of the influences of EU reforms on rural life are evident in public discourse. The visible flow of financial support to rural areas brings about tensions between urban and rural populations. Urban people perceive that rural inhabitants are not always deserving of EU benefits - the simple fact that they are landowners is not perceived as a good enough reason for assistance. I examine this rural - urban tension. A second issue that is influencing rural identities is the relationship between rural inhabitants and the imposed government structures 'from above'. During socialism rural inhabitants were fundamentally opposed to what they perceived as a 'state control'. Their identity was located in discourses of resistance to the state. Now, with the EU playing a similar role we need to look at how this relationship is being forged between rural people and EU agents. In the pre-accession period statistics showed that farmers were against accession, but afterwards farmers have shown themselves willing to apply for EU resources and engaged in EU programmes. In this paper I therefore ash: how has participation in a common market changed the self perception of farmers and their identity? How are collective and individual identities shaped? What kind of new identities they are emerging in response to changing economic circumstances and entry into the common market?

Tales from the clinic: economic failure and psychological vulnerability

Author: Vieda Skultans (University of Latvia (University of Bristol))  email
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Long Abstract

The introduction of a market economy in Latvia has opened up life opportunities for some but closed them off for others. EU enlargement has worked to the benefit of the more developed regions of the country but has not improved the conditions of less developed regions. The new discourse works for the economic winners but not the losers.

However, the economic discourse of individual effort and responsibility has generally spread to all sectors of the population. It has re-shaped idioms of psychological distress and re-framed unhappiness and failure in individual rather than collective terms. Encounters in the psychiatric clinic show up the non-functionality and contradictions of the market economy as they are played out in individuals' lived experience.

My paper will be based upon recently acquired research material, which will form part of a two year ESRC funded programme of work on "Economic and Psychiatric Transformations in post-Soviet Latvia" (2006-8). My fieldwork will be based in the economically well-developed north west region of Vidzeme as well as in economically deprived S.E. region of Latgale. I will draw upon conversations with psychiatrists and their patients as well as transcriptions of the actual consultations in psychiatric clinics. I hope to provide a greater understanding of innovation in psychiatric taxonomies, changes in the figurative language of the emotions, changes in conceptualisations of the self and how all of these relate to changes in the economic status of individuals. Drawing on evidence of socio-economic trends in these two groups, I anticipate that such changes will be more readily embraced in Vidzeme than in Latgale.

Facing west: multinational identities in the age of integration

Author: Gabriel Stoiciu ('Francisc Rainer' Institute of Anthropology)  email
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Long Abstract

Opening the geographical and spiritual frontiers worldwide was part of the post-1989 changes in Central and Eastern Europe. This opening was seen as a logical attitude after the decline of Soviet control over the entire region. The rules of competition and profit, the altering of pre-'89 internal and external commercial agreements and also the pressure from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank urged the new regimes to pursue liberalisation and privatisation.

European integration, as well as globalisation, is not a naturally occurring phenomenon that would have happened without people's determination. It is meant to fulfil aspirations to a higher level of socio-economic life. A businessman may see here opportunities for the expansion of markets, while other people may see European integration as a threat to local traditions unable to compete with the "aggressive" cultures endorsed by economical power. The main interests motivating the process of European integration are related to economy (profit-related), politics (power-related) and culture (exploring other identities). Many trans-national businesses succeed in eluding local regulations and national "supervision". In "the new spirit of competition" these businesses are not even interested to protect at least the production of their mother plants.

One of the most common situations nowadays is when a multinational decides to close its unprofitable mother plant (raising thus mass protests) and de-locate it to a 'lower wage' country, where this 'foreign investment' is seen as an invasion (also raising mass protests but otherwise motivated).

The main object of the research presented hereby is to show the way in which an employee of a multinational enterprise sees his/her socio-professional position and future related to the cultural adaptation of work habits to foreign managerial styles and imported technologies. The fieldwork started from the hypothesis that depending on decisions and innovations brought from abroad, can give an increased sense of employment insecurity, unacceptable to some people even if it means efficiency, profit and bigger incomes.

The research is based on empirical data gathered for the MA thesis at Pierre Mendes France (Grenoble II) University. These data extracted from interviews with French salaried employees working in multinational enterprises (mainly of American origin) is hereby confronted with the results of a fieldwork carried out in Bucharest also in multinational enterprises.

French workers considered as compulsory to be consulted when decisions as site closing, re-locations of plants (to lower wage countries) or massive layoffs are to be taken. On the other hand, Romanian workers are adamant about a permanent state control over firms, especially those resulted from foreign direct investment.

This comparative fieldwork leads us to an interrogative reflection: could a peaceful multicultural area be conceived, whereas its inhabitants are brought into a more or less direct antagonism due to economical competition?

Gabriel STOICIU

Changing economies and changing challenges: an anthropological approach to the utilisation of emerging European Markets

Author: Agnese Cimdina (University of Latvia)  email
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Long Abstract

Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and subsequent EU enlargement in 2004, business activities with East European countries have been of growing importance for Western economy. Consequently, the emerging European markets have actively been utilized. This is proved by transferring of foreign production units to the Baltic States. Scandinavian business people have the perception of the Baltic States as countries with cheap workforce, strategically ideal location for transferring of production units and establishing of logistics centres. The aim of this Paper is to discuss the interpretive approach in studying utilization of the emerging European markets and point to the challenges such trend contains. Based on empirical findings from Scandinavian business activities in Latvia and Lithuania, this paper discusses the following questions: How does the social construction process manifest itself in the daily activities of international marketplace and how can qualitative methods be used to reveal them? What identities are being constructed in the operations of international marketplace? What are the implications of these constructions?

The enterprising self: career and life strategies of economic elites in Lithuania

Author: Asta Vonderau (Martin-Luther University Halle)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper is based on results of my field work on lifestyles and identity models of the business elites in Lithuania. The career and life strategies of the business elites are currently being reorganised and adopted to the new political, social and economic situation of Lithuania as EU-member state. On the one hand, the dominant social and political orientation of the Lithuanian society toward Europe and the West excludes other possibilities for orientation and identification. On the other hand, the capability to develop activities in both directions (West and East) seems to be necessary in order to assure the achievement of the social elite status within Lithuania and Europe. The main interest of my paper is in making suggestions with regard to the question how identities of bussiness elites are constructed inbetween the local images of an 'European person' and transnational economic activities, which exceed the national and European borders.